A Story of Recovery, Rebirth, and Rebuilding: Get to Know The Hanai Foundation’s Founder

Founder of the Hanai Foundation, Kimberly Smythe, knows what it’s like to feel lost.  Her personal journey through trauma, healing, and ultimately to transformation guides the foundation’s work as it builds the Hanai Center and its community-based programs.

Kim is passionate about helping people learn, heal, recover, grow, and collaborate to find authentic connection with one another.  It is this passion and her love of the Central Oregon community that fuels the foundation’s mission to provide a shared grounding space for people of all ages and walks of life to enjoy – one that inspires empowerment, independence, courage, kindness, innovation, and understanding.

A Message From Kim

“Old stories can be challenging to let go of.  I urge myself each and every day to be kind to myself, to know that it’s okay to struggle…it’s called being alive.  I also encourage myself to walk through fear and experience the growth that comes from being uncomfortable.  I choose to open myself up, not to be closed in as I’ve been most of my life.

As a teenager I became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. Society calls me a “birthmother”, not a “mother”, because I gave her up for adoption. It’s a label that made me feel less-than then and for many years after.  This was a time in my life that was emotionally and physically traumatic for so many reasons, chief among them being physically isolated from the comfort of family and friends and forced to endure this difficult journey alone without any real community to support me.  I was young, vulnerable, had few coping skills and a ton of shame which I was ill-equipped to deal with and which had long-lasting impact. 

While I went on to marry and have a wonderful family to include three more children, I still had so much shame which I hid by keeping in constant motion. I moved back and forth between family and work, tending to everyone’s needs and ignoring my own.  After many years, I decided I had to take charge and face the emotional wounds that were holding me back from leading and enjoying an authentic life.  I wanted to find peace with the decisions I had made when I was a young girl.  In quiet desperation, I found support in the late Mariah Crawford, a masterful, kind-hearted spiritual counselor who lived in Redmond, Oregon. 

When I first met Mariah, my life was filled with building a new business and I didn’t have much in the way of a fellowship to separate me from work.  I trusted Mariah with my story and she provided a safe space for me to express my pain for the first time in my life.  After twenty years, I finally felt heard.  Mariah helped to guide me to a much different perspective of my story, one of truth and self-forgiveness.  As I began to heal and come home to my true self, I recognized that community was missing in my life.  I formed a group to share a safe space with – a group that still exists today and is very important to me. 

During my process of healing I decided to write a book about my experience.  Reaching back and digging up a part of my life that I’d been terrified of sharing was both emotionally exhausting and liberating.  Owning my voice when very few birthmothers had done so before me felt like a huge burden lifting.

When I handed in my manuscript, an undefinable inspiration came to me.  I was sitting next to my editor, Sandie Sedgbeer, and I turned to her and said something totally out of context.  “You know what I really want to do?  I want to build a place where people can gather and know they are more alike than different.  I want to create a multi-generational, non-denominational space for community where respectfulness is a pillar and vulnerability will be the norm.” In that very moment, both my editor and I knew something had shifted.  My book, it would turn out, was the first stepping stone that led me down a path that would eventually become the development of the Hanai community center.

My very first interview about my book was live on the internet.  I had no idea what I was doing, I had no experience, no background, yet I did it.  That interview is on my website, a site for my book, “Letting Go Again”.  I would go on to do fifteen more interviews and slowly I got better at it. I even found myself enjoying the interaction with the interviewer which, to me, was testimony to how much I was growing. I was sharing my deepest, darkest secrets with the world and I was still standing!

I feel deeply for people like me.  People who feel or have felt that there is no place or community for them.  I want to be authentic with others.  And I want to help create space for people to find introspection and expression.  Stillness and movement.  I want to create a place where our community can gather, heal, find our true selves, return to our innate authenticity, and leave what’s not serving us behind.  It is my belief that we are capable of so much more when we remember who we really are.                                                             

Learn more about The Hanai Foundation, here.

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Gratitude In Listening

Our team concluded the Listening Project in mid March. We listened to community organizers, musicians, pastors, professors, students, teachers, CEOs, farmers, dancers, mothers, restaurant owners, lawyers, makers, fathers, long time residents and new Bendites. We listened to people share the truth of their experience living here, and their insights on how to contribute. We listened to honor our community and to locate our place in this ecosystem. Thank you to those of you who shared your time and your voice with us.

We are so grateful for the listening team: Kimberly Smythe (founder), Carli Smythe (me), Breyn Hibbs, Janice Hughes, Aly Waibel, Terri MacDonald, Ilima Furey, and Piper Lucas. Everyone on this team committed themselves to learning and offering the art of listening to our community. We started with a 3 day training with expert listener and facilitator Shannon Thompson, and then deepened our practice with every listen.

We learned that listening can be transformative. It opens up a space for honesty and vulnerability. The art of listening asks you to put your opinions aside for the sake of witnessing another. We aren’t trained to do that in this world, are we? It’s something valuable to learn and practice and practice.

We gathered 16 notebooks of interview notes over at least 300 hours of listening to more than 150 people. As is good practice in qualitative research, we took a break from the data for two whole months. The notebooks have been patiently waiting for me to return to them, to code them, and to interpret our findings. That work starts now.

With Love,

Carli Ilima Smythe

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Listening Project Underway

Listening to Our Community

For the past month and a half, Hanai has been embarking on a listening project. We are listening to members of the community to help us get a better picture of what our community needs. We have the land, the building design, and our mission statement decided, and the listening project is designed to help us make decisions going forward about how the building will best serve our community.

It has been a great honor to listen to our community. This is a place full of people who are passionate about where they live and full of gratitude and hope about the connections that they have made and will make while living here. We’ve listened to the recently arrived and the generationally rooted. We’ve listened to grassroots leaders, pastors, educators and students. To farmers and environmental advocates. To people whose first language is Spanish. To healers and artists. To doers and dreamers. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. And we’re still going.

There is still a month more of the listening project. We listen to expose our blind spots, to learn who our community is, what we feel, and what we need, as a group. We won’t be able to address all that we’re hearing, though I wish that were possible. We’ll find patterns in our listening data and determine which needs speak the most loudly and are in alignment with our mission.

Connecting On This Blog

Our ground breaking is projected for this spring.You’ll notice more regular updates and you’ll also notice we’ll be working out the kinks on the site. I look forward to this site becoming a space for us to connect in the near future.

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Hanai Center Construction Update

The Hanai center is waiting for approval from the city of bend on its final design proposal. More information to come on the design of the center and how it will serve our community!

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